The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Phone Revolution 

When the Saudi people finally rise up in revolt and throw out the House of Saud, it won't be for democratic reform, and it won't be for an islamic republic. It'll be about mobile phones.

Here's an early shot in the battle.

Camera Phones Freely Available Despite Ban

Mobile phones are legal. Camera phones are not. OK, you say, but camera phones are a minority, what's the problem?

The problem is the march of technology. Ten years ago, PC's had floppy discs and big cubic screens; now CD-RW and flatscreens are becoming the norm. In 5 to 10 years time, all phones will be camera phones, it'll be the standard. So will the muttawa try and ban all phones in Saudi Arabia? It'd be like trying to take an American's gun, or an Englishman's dog. Arabs in general, and Saudis in particular, live for their mobile phones, in a way that other parts of the world would not understand. And we are physically incapable of ignoring our phone when it rings.

Let me illustrate with 3 incidents from the last 4 weeks.

1. My wife and I went out for dinner in the Italian restaurant in the Sheraton. At one point I looked across at a booth where another Saudi couple were holding an animated conversation. However they didn't quite seem "in sync". That's because they were each talking to two other people on their phones.

2. A Saudi was giving a presentation at my place of employment. Screen, PC projector, Powerpoint, the whole thing. Then his phone rang. He didn't switch it off, he answered it. Just as well, it was his Mother! We sat listening for 5 minutes while he explained why he'd not been to see her for two days. I have to say, some of his excuses were ingenious, I'll use them myself sometime. Finally he resumed his presentation, without an apology.

3. I have an Arab (non-Saudi) colleague who is divorced and a womaniser. He actually goes out in Riyadh in an evening and picks up women. How? I haven't a clue, but it's very risky, to say the least. Anyway one lunchtime I had to get in touch with him urgently, so I called his mobile. After 4 rings it answered. The person at the other end of the line was obviously having trouble getting his breath; in fact it sounded like a terminal asthma attack. All I could hear was gasping and wheezing. Then I realized what the "problem" was, asked him to call me back, and quickly put the phone down. I was clearly more embarrassed than he was.

So that's an idea of the priority that we attach to our phones. And when the day dawns that all phones are camera phones, and the Muttawa try to confiscate them, that'll be the day that the revolution starts. You heard it on this blog first.

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